An NBA general manager has several responsibilities. He or she would need to have a large hand in drafting, trading for and signing players as free agents. There are other important decisions to make as well.
According to former Chicago Bulls general manager, the toughest part of the job for him was hiring the right coaches. Paxson was a guest on Stacey King and Mark Schanowski’s Gimme the Hot Sauce podcast on Thursday, and he talked about the challenge and a mentor who was very good at it.
John Paxson Says the ‘Hardest Thing to Do’ is Hiring a Good Coach
Paxson gave former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause credit when it came to hiring good coaches, and it seemed clear from his comments on the podcast, it was something he felt he struggled with as a general manager.
Jerry was really smart and I’ll tell you were I still believe he doesn’t get enough credit; in identifying coaches. Having sat in that chair for a long time I still think the hardest thing to do and the toughest decision to make is hiring a really really good head coach. Somebody that understands, in this day and age especially, somebody that understands the big picture, the entire organization. And then on the floor can teach and can coach game situations. What he doesn’t get enough credit for initially is hiring a guy like Tex Winter, who Stacey and I were lucky enough to play for. We were lucky in terms of growing up in that era of fundamental basketball and footwork were taught and drilled every single day. It could be monotonous and boring but it’s what we did everyday. As I reflect back back on that I think Jerry has a keen eye for teachers of the game. He certainly doesn’t get enough for bringing Doug Collins in the first time. I played for Doug the three years he was there. He was exactly what we needed at the time, in terms of his passion and energy and he got us playing so hard and tough. And outside of Michael and a few others, for a while we weren’t as real talented but he had us playing hard and then identifying Phil to come in, that’s a tough thing to do. Now we’re in an era where staff is so big. We have a lot of coaches, a lot players, I think it can be even harder to identify the guys that get it. But Jerry was bright and you can’t knock a guy that won six championships as the head of the organization.
It’s tough to hire period and even more difficult to put the right people in charge under you on the org chart.
Bulls Head Coaches Under John Paxson
Paxson fired his former teammate Bill Cartwright in his first year as general manage and hired Scott Skiles. It was a solid hire as Skiles put up a 165-172 record which included two postseason appearances. A nightmarish beginning to the 2007-08 season resulted in Paxson firing Skiles and making it through the rest of the year with Pete Myers and Jim Boylan (the other one) as the interim coaches.
The next season, the Bulls hired Vinny Del Negro as the head coach, and he also had some success going 82-82 with playoff appearances in both of his seasons with the team. Issues between the coach and Paxson led to the former’s dismissal and the Bulls hired Tom Thibodeau at the beginning of the 2010-11 season.
Thibs won Coach of the Year that season and the Bulls had the best record in the Eastern Conference led by Derrick Rose, who became the youngest MVP in league history. The Bulls lost to the Miami Heat in 5 games in the Eastern Conference Finals, but hopes were high looking ahead.
Unfortunately, Rose would get injured in the 2012 postseason and everything changed. Thibs was fired in 2015 with a 255-139 regular season record and a 23-28 record in the playoffs. The Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg to replace him. It was a disaster. Hoiberg went 115-155 with the Bulls making just one postseason in four seasons.
Things got even worse in 2018 when Chicago hired Jim Boylen (yeah, that one) and the team hit a low the city hadn’t seen since Tim Floyd replaced Phil Jackson. Boylen was fired before last season, shortly after Paxson and front office mate Gar Forman were dismissed, with a 39-84 record in three seasons and no playoff appearances.
Paxson hired or had a major hand in bringing in 5 head coaches. Only one of them had a winning regular-season record. Two of the five were abject failures. So, yes, it is easy to see why Paxson respects the art of hiring the right coach.
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